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How to Avoid Losing Thousands of Dollars to an Email Scam

After weeks of searching for the perfect home, you’ve finally found it! The seller accepted your offer, you’ve sailed through due diligence, and you’re counting down the days until you can unlock the door to your new home.

Then you get the email: Your real estate agent or title company wants you to wire your down payment and closing costs to a different account than originally intended (side note: something your agent will never do), often saying it’s because of “last-minute changes.” The message is from your agent or title company’s account, so you follow the email’s instructions — only to find out that none of your money made it to the closing table. It’s all gone.

Email Scammers Are Targeting Home Buyers

Unfortunately, this nightmare scenario has happened to home buyers before. One couple even lost $200,000 back in May because of this type of email scam.

Here’s how it works: Scammers hack into the email accounts of your real estate agent or title company, send you an email impersonating them, and share instructions to wire thousands of dollars to what turns out to be a fake account. These scams are absolutely devastating to home buyers, so I wanted to share a few tips with you about how to avoid losing your closing funds and your dream home to a scam like this.

real estate paperwork in closingLook for These Red Flags in Your Email

  • Email address that doesn’t look right — Is there an extra period, missing letters, or a misspelling in the sender’s email address? Scammers may be impersonating your agent by using a similar email address.
  • Instructions to wire or move money — Never send wire transfer information or any other financial details over email. It’s not secure. Besides, your agent will never ask you to share personal financial information over email.
  • Suspicious email attachments — These email attachments could be files that contain malware, which can affect your computer’s security.

You can read more about how to protect yourself from scammers in this article by the Federal Trade Commission.

Beware of Unsolicited Emails — Even If They Look Legitimate

Sophisticated email scams like this one targeting home buyers can be hard to spot. Many spammy emails even look like they come from legitimate sources such as DocuSign. So when you’re checking your inbox and opening emails, be aware of potential phishing emails — if the sender is asking you to type in a username and password, verify sensitive information, approve of a payment, or anything else that would collect personal or financial information from you, report the email immediately.

A good rule of thumb: if you were not expecting an email from your agent or an official site like DocuSign, do not click on links or download attachments. You can learn more about avoiding email phishing scams on the Federal Trade Commission’s website here.

The Best Way to Avoid Email Phishing Scams

The best thing to do to avoid an email scam like this is to call your agent or title company directly and verify that they sent you the email. You should also talk with your agent about the closing process to learn what exactly is expected when closing on your home.

Have Any Questions About Buying a Home?

If you have any other questions about how to avoid this type of email scam, or if you want to know more about what to expect when buying a home, please don’t hesitate to contact me at 201.200.5512.

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